Sierra Magazine: Does a Bear Think in the Woods?

A great new project I recently did for Tracy Cox, supreme divine art director at Sierra Magazine, on animal cognition. Specifically, the author Brandon Kiem talks about Black bears and their keen intelligence. Read the article here!

They had some direction for the cover using the Rodin seated figure from the “Gates of Hell” popularly known as “The Thinker.” I had not looked at this sculpture in a long time. and was struck by how the concept worked so much stronger as a part of the whole gateway (Gates of Hell). A man contemplating the past. But this pose has become a cliche’ on it’s own… Definitely something that would be a challenge to make fit in a non-humorous way…. Bears are just so fat…

“Chess Bear” spot for Sierra magazine ©Bill Mayer 2019

“Chess Bear” spot for Sierra magazine ©Bill Mayer 2019


First thumbnails where I was trying to sort out where to go with the cover and the two other illustrations. The Chess-playing Bear seemed like an obvious one, as well as the reading bear…. I did play with putting the bear in human cloths but we decided maybe not quite the right tone…

The one they picked was#19 for the cover. #5 for the chess playing bear spot…(above) and they liked the idea of the reading bear. But I took and drew them up tighter because it’s sometimes hard for people to see past my humorous playful thumbnails.


My original idea for the reading illustration was to use a huge Grizzly and a tiny book, I thought would be a striking contrast. But the article really was about Black bears so that changed to be more accurate. We did some tweaking back and forth trying to make the pose work.

“Sitting Bear” Cover for Sierra magazine ©Bill Mayer 2019

“Sitting Bear” Cover for Sierra magazine ©Bill Mayer 2019

after some tweaking on the pose the Black Bear seemed to work pretty well. I decided to add a simple tree behind him to help. Lastly I came back after it was finished and gave him a tookus… to sit him down and add some weight to make him look a bit more natural….

The reading bear was working well, one side note I had the bear reading Darwin and the editor suggested maybe his less famous book on animal emotions… a little subtle twist I’m not sure anyone will actually catch, but some request are too easy not to comply. In the final I decided to add some trees into the background to give an impression of the outdoor environment. It also made it a bit different from the spot illustration. the finals certainly seemed to work well in the magazine… For now I am ready to paint anything but bear hairs…. Thousand of bear hairs…

“Reading Bear” inside full page for Sierra magazine ©Bill Mayer 2019

“Reading Bear” inside full page for Sierra magazine ©Bill Mayer 2019

New Gouache Paintings at WOWxWOW!

I just finished four new paintings for an upcoming show on

It had been a while since I had done any personal work so it was good to have this on the calander to force me to take some time and actually paint something for me. I had several large projects that had deadlines and certainly a lot of personal stuff that filled my days.
I have returned to looking a lot at Goyas work lately. In art school he was certainly one of my favorites. Forest had been searching around and we were looking at his series of dark paintings he painted on the walls of his house.(The Black Paintings) I guess that was why I decided to title these in Spanish. That and my new intern that was helping me name them is from Colombia.... It just felt like it fit.

To purchase the originals and to see the rest of the show, head over to Vestiges to Voyages

©BILL MAYER 2018 El Ministro Del Conocimiento (The Minister of Knowledge)

©BILL MAYER 2018 El Ministro Del Conocimiento (The Minister of Knowledge)

©BILL MAYER 2018 La Cabra Beata (The Pious Goat)

©BILL MAYER 2018 La Cabra Beata (The Pious Goat)

©BILL MAYER 2018 El Vidente (The Seer)

©BILL MAYER 2018 El Vidente (The Seer)

©BILL MAYER 2018 El Diácono (The Deacon)

©BILL MAYER 2018 El Diácono (The Deacon)

These four paintings;  "El Diácono," "El Ministro Del Conocimiento," "El Vidente," and "La Cabra Beata," are done in gouache on watercolor paper. They’re part of an ongoing experiment with medium and composition and the potent nature of dreams. I believe color is really emotion. Color choices are made to reinforce those emotions. I think there are no deep, dark, hidden secrets. It’s just fun to play with the emotions art can generate. To me there’s a sense of poetry in the playful use of surreal elements.

Continuing in the Gouache Series, “Strange Dreams,” this collection of four portraits portray the nature of piety.
It is a humorously haunting theme reflecting a bleak outlook on humanity and religion.

Service Stars! PLANSPONSOR

One of my favorite Art Directors SooJin Buzelli called me about doing a new job for PLANSPONSOR, a simple one page Illustration. This was a very simple concept taken from one of the usual 50 or so thumbnails. I think the design on this spread worked so well and really played off the color in the sky. Some last minute scrambling to get it all tweaked right  I added the northern lights to give the horizon a sort of mystical feeling. 


A very simple limited color palette to keep that starry evening feeling. Conceptually the advisor on the bottom is helping the client reach for the stars. Really a literal interpretation of the "Service Stars" line.

Originally the figures were obscured by clouds, but in the final version I decided to nix the clouds to make the image read faster.


 This lower illustration was an after thought. A naive, graphic direction I thought of and presented as an alternate. It received warm reviews but we stayed on track with the original direction, which SooJin felt was more appropriate. 

Much thanks to SooJin and the folks at PLANSPONSOR.


50th Anniversary of the Assassination of MLK

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I got call from an old friend and fabulous art director BA Albert asking if I would do a quick turn around poster for the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s murder. A local underground newspaper wanted to do a special promotional issue. They were going to print a letter our Senator John Lewis had recently written to MLK about what it had meant to him as a 16-year-old meeting with him, and how it had changed his life and path to the future. The wanted me to do a 24 x 36 poster that would be folded into the paper.


It was Monday, and posters due Friday. Seemed tight, because I was in the middle of a large publishing project and that would have to be set aside to make room.

It felt like something that needed to be done with the right tone and feeling. I had a short conference call with BA and Blake Tannery, the art director at ICON. pulled together some reference on JL, and MLK and started on thumbnails. There was a police photo from John Lewis's past that just struck me as such a strong photo.

I always love the beginning of a job, conceptually somewhat open and direction not tied down. It’s just a visual stream of ideas that sometimes play off one another. Sometimes when I do a poster I add color to my thumbnails. It’s important perceptions that sometimes help things read. There were some great ideas. We hashed them out in a conference call and they suggested the possibility of doing a two-sided poster. I decided to do three of the posters. They loved the idea of the police photo but we all agreed it needed some conceptual element to make it work.


Things didn’t really go that smoothly. I have a hard time with portraits and I must have started over four or five times, finally stayed late and got one that seemed to have the right feeling. The mug shot of John Lewis was painted in Gouache, the type at the bottom a combination of blown up digital print and bad Xerox copy. But I loved the weird way it distorted the type.

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John Lewis.jpg

My initial idea for the JL poster was to have flowers on his eyes like a nod back to those peace posters from the 60’s. I thought it was an ironic contrast with the stark police photo but Blake got some push back from CL saying “I’m getting everything from white appropriation with flower power to Day of the Dead. Geesh. ” Lee had already expressed some feeling that it was not the right approach so I quickly came up with a simpler solution making the reflections in the eyes into doves. Forest thought it made his eyes sparkle. A much better poster.

In my initial thumbnails I had tried a cople of variations with hand written type that seemed problematic with my spelling and the time for editing nonexistant.

The three posters were designed to have the letter included on the front in a column. The yellow poster to have the Letter on the back. I thought the yellow poster was by far the strongest direction.

Much thanks to Creative loafing, the folks at ICON, my old friend BA and Blake Tannery. Much fun working with you guys.
Read the letter here,

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